Porter for Breakfast, 1924

Bottle of stout w. glass.

The following passages, for obvious reasons, grabbed my attention in the opening pages of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain, about a young Hamburg man exiled to an Alpine sanatorium before World War I:

So he grew up; in wretched weather, in the teeth of the wind and mist, grew up, so to say, in a yellow mackintosh, and, generally speaking, he throve. A little anaemic he had always been, so Dr. Heidekind said, and had him take a good glass of porter after third breakfast every day, when he came home from school. This, as everyone knows, is a hearty drink — Dr. Heidekind considered it a blood-maker — and certainly Hans Castorp found it most soothing on his spirits and encouraging to a propensity of his, which his Uncle Tienappel called ‘dozing’: namely, sitting staring into space, with his jaw dropped and his thoughts fixed on nothing at all.

*

The subdued chords of a hymn floated up; after a pause came a march. Hans Castorp loved music from his heart; it worked upon him in much the same way as did his breakfast porter, with deeply soothing, narcotic effect, tempting him to doze.

*

‘God help me, milk I never could abide, and least of all now! Is there perhaps some porter?’ He applied himself to the dwarf and put his question with the gentlest courtesy, but alas there was none. She promised to bring Kulmbacher beer, and did so. It was thick, dark, and foaming brownly; it made a capital substitute for the porter. Hans Castorp drank it thirstily from a half-litre glass… [The] breakfast beer, as a rule only mildly obfuscating to the young man’s sense… this time completely stupefied and befuddled him. He felt as though he had received a blow on the head.

I’m only a hundred pages in but I’m hoping the breakfast porter turns out to be the key to it all and was played by Dirk Bogarde in a 1970s film version.

10 thoughts on “Porter for Breakfast, 1924”

  1. Well, I need more “third breakfasts” in my life. And would “when he came home from school” suggest that this is an afternoon ritual? Not that I want to tarnish the idea of breakfast porter. Breakfast and porter are two of my good friends and they ought to meet more often.

    Love the bit about Kulmbacher too.

    1. I wonder what type the Kulmbacher was? The modern Kulmbacher Brauerei does both a decent Schwarzbier and a very nice black Weissbier, the latter fitting the book’s description rather well.

      1. Weissbier outside of Bavaria (i.e. Bavaria proper as opposed to today’s federal state) is a relatively modern thing though, isn’t it? I would expect it to be a bottom-fermented dark beer of the type which was referred to as Kulmbacher, Erlanger in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  2. Great novel, as is Buddenbrooks, can’t remember if there is any beer in it, I’m sure that Bass No 1 makes an appearance in Ulysses, the Oxen of the Sun bit I think.

    1. A few times.
      “… he had been staring hard at a certain amount of number one Bass bottled by Messrs Bass and Co at Burton-on-Trent which happened to be situated amongst a lot of others right opposite to where he was and which was certainly calculated to attract anyone’s remark on account of its scarlet appearance…”

  3. I love the beer & (to me, Hobbitesque) mentions of multiple breakfast, but another thing that stood out was the use of “throve”…perfect😊

  4. Just had a thought on this. You’re reading the English translation, as Mann wrote it in German. Would make sense for a British translator to translate Schwarzbier as porter, for example. I’ll see if I can find a German version to compare.

    1. So in the original it’s still Porter. Even better, you get great German nouns like “Portersfrühstück” and “Frühstucksporter,” i.e. his porter breakfast and his breakfast porter.

      I’m wondering if the type Porter was more common in Germany around and after the turn of the century, influenced by British beer, then like many things took on the more German word (Schwarzbier) under growing nationalist sentiment.

      I’m speculating idly and probably Ron Pattinson has trod this ground.

      1. Damn. Should have thought to check that. I haven’t got much further — only got time for a few pages a day at the moment — but the references to beer keep coming.

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